Developer: Ghost Games
Need For Speed: Rivals ought to be the best racing game on PS4 and Xbox One. On paper it already is: an enormous open world where street racers challenge each other to reckless head-to-head showdowns, all as the police strive to shut them down hard and fast with an insane range of gorgeous tricked-out supercars. It's a fun factory, a powerslide paradise, underpinned by the AllDrive system that brings players together into a single seamless session on both sides of the law. Ghost Games have the pedigree to pull it off, consisting primarily of Criterion veterans, but the reality match the mission statement?
Everything nearly works as intended, it's almost brilliant, but unfortunately you can feel the limitations of the PS3 and Xbox 360 holding Rivals back where it counts.
Ever since Outrun, I've craved thrills and escapism from my racing games, and Rivals absolutely delivers on that front. Redview County provides a canvas of winding country roads, sprawling freeways, jumps and shortcuts to race through, throwing any ideas of 'authenticity' and 'realism' to the wind. This is a game where the third car you unlock is an obscenely modified Aston Martin Vanquish, which you can kit out with all manner of outrageous Pursuit Tech. Want to blast opponents aside with shockwaves? Reach insane speeds with a turbo boosts? Knock out rivals with an EMP? Go nuts.
Boasting a forgiving handling model, constantly-replenishing Nitro boost, impressive vehicle roster and a profound sense of irresponsible speed, Rivals really makes racing fun. It's drift-heavy ridiculous arcade nonsense at its finest, and I absolutely love it.
As a street racer, you'll engage in a range of races, timed events and police chases throughout Redview County, and can instantly challenge any AI racer or rival player to a head-to-head showdown. Completing events and gaining notoriety ups your heat level and multiplier, but in a neat twist, accrued money can only be saved if you manage to bank it at one of the hideouts dotted around the world map. It's a continual balance of risk vs reward, with the urge to complete 'just one more race' and increase your winnings balanced by the need to evade the ever-increasing army of Redview's finest at your back. Hurtling down shortcuts and abusing Pursuit Tech is therefore the order of the day, as is knowing when to call it a day.
Playing as a cop boasts its own career progression and presents unique challenges. Various time trials and chases are available throughout the map, but if you ever encounter an AI racer or rival player, you're free to switch on your sirens and give chase even if they're in the middle of an event. Putting on your blues and twos, before smashing a cocky delinquent off the side of a hill with an impact overrider, is never less than entertaining. Alongside a range of utterly ridiculous squad cars that handle has menacingly as they look, police players can also access extra Pursuit Tech such as spike strip-dropping helicopters and roadblocks. Perks of the job.
Rivals guarantees you an absolute blast regardless of which side of the law you favour. Unfortunately the progression system leaves much to be desired, miring you in specific challenges that often require grinding or serious amounts of repetition. Still, again, there's nothing stopping you from just heading out into Redview to raise hell.
It's all tied together with a fun little plot involving the rise of social media celebrities, which is largely forgettable tosh, but helps to bring some flavour to the proceedings. I was surprised to discover that the police are treated in a uniquely complex way; far from useless idiots or paragons of virtue, they're portrayed as hard-edged, ruthlessly capable elite professionals who'll do anything to bring order back to the streets and avenge their losses. Think Judge Dredd, not Chief Wiggum.
Graphically-speaking, Rivals looks great on next-gen systems. Forza 5 won't lose any sleep, but Turn 10 might blush at the weather effects, as storms and squalls seamlessly roll in over the horizon bringing rain and vicious forks of lightning. The detail isn't hugely impressive, but the ambient effect is very tasty indeed, noticeably smoother and crisper than practically anything on PS3 or Xbox 360. Native 1080p is assured on both the Xbox One and PS4, if you're interested.
Just when things couldn't get any better, Rivals reveals its ace in the hole: AllDrive. This feature aims to blur the lines between singleplayer and multiplayer by seamlessly bringing players into the same world, where they're free to go about their own ends or challenge each other as they see fit. Racers and cops exist in the same session, leading to a nervous, unpredictable atmosphere where a police crusier could enter the fray at any moment. AllDrive is therefore one of the most exciting features we've ever seen in a racing game, making Drivatars practically obsolete in the process.
And yet AllDrive almost destroys Rivals completely.
First and foremost, even though next-gen games should support massive player populations (here's looking at you, Xbox One cloud servers), Rivals can only handle SIX. Six players adrift in a massive world that's too big for its own good. You'll rarely meet without constantly checking the map, and even if you do, Redview feels deserted and empty compared with the bustling streets of Burnout Paradise or even the spartan GTA Online, with a bare minimum of AI traffic and no pedestrians whatsoever. It's clear that the PS3 and Xbox 360 couldn't handle more than half a dozen players, but it feels primitive and even pointless on current/next-gen platforms. We need eight players at the very least on last-gen consoles, if not double that number on their successors, to actually make AllDrive worth its accompanying annoyances.
Which aren't limited to an inability to pause the game or restart events if the police are giving chase (i.e. at all times), since the basic act of getting fellow players together for a race is an utter nightmare. You'll have to manually organise everyone to meet the start line, mill around while waiting for everyone to turn up, then start the event and hope that an opportunistic cop doesn't seize the opportunity for some easy busts. Racing is kind of a big deal, Ghost Games. It shouldn't be this hard to set one up!
Worst of all, though, Rivals doesn't support dedicated servers even on Xbox One. This leads to painful loading times and several instances of lag, but this is nothing compared to the horror that occurs when the host leaves the session. Everything stops. Dead. Followed by a period of host migration that ends with all player cars frozen in their tracks. AI cops and racers, though, continue moving at their original speeds, and end up embedded in your rear bumper. If this happens near the end of a race -- trust me, it will occur as you approach the finish line sooner or later -- you'll often end up busted and bereft of credits through no fault of your own.
This is unacceptable both in terms of breaking gameplay flow and inducing more than its fair share of ragequits. Rivals is strong enough to survive this compromised last-gen botch job, even in offline singleplayer, but AllDrive stops Ghost Games' debut from realising its full potential.
Your move, The Crew.
- Exhilarating arcade racing
- Phenomenally good fun, whether pushing the limits or upholding the law
- AllDrive is nearly a game-changer when it works...
- ...but fails to cater for anywhere near enough simultaneous players to be worth the hassle
- Appalling host migration and loading times, desperately needs dedicated servers
- World feels empty, progression system bogs down in boring challenges
The Short Version: Need For Speed: Rivals is an exhilarating thrill ride that's very nearly brilliant. The foundations for fun are present and correct, but last-gen compromises transform AllDrive from a game changer into a nigh-on dealbreaker.
Then again, "nearly brilliant" is just another way of saying "very good indeed." There's no shame in that.
A Note On Kinect: Need For Speed: Rivals features a range of Kinect voice commands, but unfortunately they're horribly implemented and ought to be disabled at your earliest convenience. Any background noise or streamed media tends to be misinterpreted as camera control commands, which can see you facing backwards at the most inopportune times. Nice idea, best avoided. - Jon